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Landmark vote by CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) to recommend universal hepatitis B vaccination

Doylestown, Nov. 4, 2021 – The Hepatitis B Foundation applauds yesterday’s landmark vote by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) to recommend universal hepatitis B vaccination for all adults ages 19 to 59 in the U.S.

Adults 60 and older are recommended to follow risk-based guidelines to determine if they should receive the vaccine. The ACIP develops recommendations to guide the use of vaccines in the U.S., which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) then uses to develop childhood and adult immunization schedules.

This is a huge win in the fight against hepatitis B, and the Hepatitis B Foundation believes that this simplified, updated recommendation will go a long way towards improving vaccination rates and protecting adults in the U.S. (currently only 30% of U.S. adults are vaccinated). However, it is very disappointing that the recommendation is not as inclusive as it could have been. Data show that many people over age 59 are at risk for hepatitis B infection, and less than 20% of older adults with risk factors are vaccinated.

The Hepatitis B Foundation worked hard to help make the ACIP aware of the need for universal hepatitis B vaccination. The Foundation mobilized its team of advocates and supporters to make their voices heard through an online petition, organizational sign-on letter and public comments.  

“On behalf of The Hepatitis B Foundation, I want to thank the ACIP for this life-saving recommendation,” said Michaela Jackson, MS, MPH, prevention policy manager at the Hepatitis B Foundation, who led its advocacy effort for universal vaccination. “It has been frustrating to watch rates of infection rise when we know that there is a safe and effective vaccine that can prevent hepatitis B and liver cancer. This recommendation will help remedy a very significant health inequity for marginalized groups and it will serve to make many adults in the U.S. safer. Individuals who are not included in the updated recommendations can still receive the hepatitis B vaccine if they wish.”

Until now, U.S. hepatitis B immunization recommendations were based on a person’s risk factors, which was stigmatizing, inefficient and burdensome to providers and patients. Universal vaccination initiatives are widely recognized in helping to reduce morbidity from viruses. The ACIP vote in favor of a recommendation for universal adult hepatitis B vaccination is a significant step towards lowering the rate of adult infection of hepatitis B.

What the recommendation means:

  • All adults aged 19-59 can receive the HBV vaccination with no cost-sharing. Those who are 60 and older who wish to receive the hepatitis B vaccine but have no identified risk factors may still have to pay for the vaccine based upon insurance coverage.
  • Financial and other systematic barriers to vaccine access will be eliminated for many adults.
  • Access to the hepatitis B vaccine will increase – more providers will offer the vaccine, and it will be easier to get vaccinated.
  • Health insurance coverage for the vaccine will improve.
  • Progress toward our shared goal of eliminating viral hepatitis in the U.S. by 2030 will accelerate.
  • Health disparities and new hepatitis B infections will be reduced.

Why is universal vaccination being recommended now? As many as 60 million Americans spanning 3 generations – Baby Boomers, Gen X, and some Millennials – were born before the guidelines for universal infant vaccination in 1991 and may not be protected against hepatitis B. Many people who have been infected do not have clear risk factors or may not be aware of the risk, and almost 85% of adults in the U.S. fall into a higher-risk group, including those with diabetes and kidney disease. Hepatitis B cases in the U.S. rose by 11% between 2014 and 2018 despite the presence of highly effective vaccines. Hepatitis B is one of the primary causes of liver cancer, one of the deadliest cancers, and it is a completely preventable disease; the need for universal vaccination can no longer be ignored.

The Hepatitis B Foundation thanks the ACIP for their recommendation, which will protect Americans from this deadly, and preventable disease.

About Hepatitis B: Hepatitis B is the most common serious liver infection in the world. It is caused by the hepatitis B virus that attacks and injures the liver. Each year up to 1 million people die from hepatitis B worldwide, even though it is preventable and treatable. Hepatitis B is a “silent epidemic” because most people do not have symptoms when they are newly or chronically infected. Thus, they can unknowingly infect others and continue the spread of hepatitis B. For people who are chronically infected but don’t have any symptoms, their livers are still being silently damaged, which can develop into serious liver disease such as cirrhosis or liver cancer.

About the Hepatitis B Foundation: We are the nation’s leading nonprofit organization solely dedicated to finding a cure for hepatitis B and improving the quality of life for those affected worldwide through research, education and patient advocacy. Founded in 1991, the Hepatitis B Foundation is based in Doylestown, Pa., with an office in Washington, D.C. To learn more, go to www.hepb.org and www.hepb30years.org, read our blog at hepb.org/blog, follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook (@hepbfoundation) or call us at 215-489-4900. To donate, contact Jean Holmes at 215-489-4900 or jean.holmes@hepb.org.